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Democrats preview priorities as 2023 Indiana legislative session nears

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The top-ranking Democrats in the Indiana House and Senate on Thursday said they will push lawmakers to go beyond Gov. Eric Holcomb’s public health recommendations.

Holcomb’s proposed 2023 budget would increase public health funding by $120 million during the 2024 budget year and by $227 million the year after, a marked increase but still below the public health commission’s recommendation of $240 million per year. It also proposes getting rid of textbook fees. House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said Holcomb’s proposals reflect what Democrats have been advocating for years, including his father, former state Rep. Ben GiaQuinta.

“I remember he was talking about it back in the Nineties,” he said. “We’re glad the governor has taken our suggestion, our ideas on this.”

As required by the state constitution, the House of Representatives will be the first chamber to debate the budget. GiaQuinta said House Democrats have been informally discussing their budget priorities with Republicans for months. He said there appears to be bipartisan agreement on the need to invest in public health funding, though the two sides might not yet agree on the specifics. Beyond the health care funding issue, GiaQuinta said Democrats will push for more education spending including universal pre-K education and for paid parental leave. He said lawmakers need to focus on issues that make Indiana an attractive place to live.

Asked about his party’s numerical disadvantage in the House, GiaQuinta replied his caucus has been able to pass legislation in the past despite being in the minority.

“We pride ourselves on being pragmatic problem solvers,” he said. “And so we put forth bills, legislation that we believe are going to move the state forward. And that’s what we’re hoping to do this session.”

GiaQuinta’s counterpart across the hall, Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said his caucus will focus on crafting a response to Indiana’s low national rankings on health care outcomes. He said the governor’s public health funding proposal is not enough to address the state’s needs. Besides health care, Taylor said he again plans to file legislation to require all children to attend school beginning at age 5 rather than the current minimum age of 7. He said this would go a long way toward improving reading proficiency scores. Just 31 percent of Indiana’s 8th graders could read proficiently in 2022.

“We can no longer accept that as the norm so we have to start doing something to change that,” he said. “My legislation will go a long way to alleviate the problems that we have later on and it saves taxpayers’ dollars because they don’t have to seek out child care.”

Taylor also has filed legislation to allow Indiana voters to put forth ballot proposals via initiative petition, as voters in 21 states including Michigan and Ohio can.

Both parties’ leaders plan to formally unveil their 2023 agendas when lawmakers return to the Statehouse on Monday.